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Covaxin effective against double mutant strain of SARS-CoV-2: ICMR study

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

New Delhi: Bharat Biotech’s Covid19 vaccine ‘covaxin’ reportedly neutralises multiple variants of coronavirus and has been effective against the double mutant strain- B.1.617, of SARS-CoV-2 and other variants as well, an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) study said on Wednesday.

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“#COVAXIN neutralises against multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2 and effectively neutralises the double mutant strain as well,” said ICMR in a tweet.

The new variant, called B.1.617, was initially detected in India with two mutations — the E484Q and L452R. It was first reported late last year by a scientist in India and more details were presented before the WHO on Monday, as per reports.

“ICMR-National Institute of Virology has successfully isolated and cultured multiple variants of concern of SARSCOV-2 virus: B.1.1.7 (UK variant); B.1.1.28 (Brazil variant and B.1.351 (South African variant),” said ICMR. It further said it has demonstrated the neutralization potential of COVAXIN against UK variant.

The institute said it has also been successful in isolating and culturing the double mutant strain B.1.617 SARS-CoV-2 identified in certain regions of India and several other countries and that Covaxin has been found to be effective against this variant as well.

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ICMR chief Dr Bhargava has previously said that the rate of transmissibility of the ‘double mutant’ found in India has not yet been established.
The health ministry first acknowledged the presence of a “double mutant” at the end of March.

While it’s a variant of interest, it “has not been stamped as a ‘variant of concern’ so as to say that it is more lethal or more infectious,” Aparna Mukherjee, a scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research, which works under the nation’s health ministry, told media.

The double mutation has been found in several countries like Australia, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Namibia, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK and the US, according to an April 16 statement from the Indian government.

The average prevalence of the variant surged to as high as 52% of samples sequenced in April from almost nothing in January, according to website tracker outbreak.info, which uses data from global repository GISAID.

In some districts in Maharashtra — home to Mumbai and epicenter of the current wave that’s triggered fresh lockdown-like rules — the prevalence of this variant was more than 60%, according to Anurag Agrawal, director of the state-run Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s genomics institute that’s conducting sequencing.

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The B.1.617 was present in samples from about 10 Indian states and while the percentage may vary, it was expected to rise as “it has two critical mutations that make it more likely to transmit and escape prior immunity,” Agrawal said.

Both mutations are known to decrease — although not completely eliminate — the binding of the antibodies created by infection and vaccination, according to Jesse Bloom, an associate professor for genome sciences and microbiology at the University of Washington.

“Mutations at sites E484 and L452 have been observed separately, but this is the first major viral lineage that combines the two,” said reports. “I do think that this new viral variant is important to monitor.”

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